What will they get, East, West, North and South?August 27, 2011
By Philip Neville
Strategists of the two political candidates have commenced working on theories and possibly ways to edge out the other side. No one in the APC will say they are complacent with the choice of the SLPP, similarly the SLPP would not say it will be an easy ride to state house. The issue of incumbency is not the focus of this piece, this may due to the fact that incumbency is not appealing to the voters any longer, but performance. In the Sierra Leone situation, the element and power of incumbency have been proven wrong; therefore it would be dangerous for the ruling APC government of President Ernest Koroma to rely on it in the
forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary election.
Factors that may propel voters to cast their votes for a sitting president is performance, popularity and love the leader has for the people. The voters must be able to see tangible things done in the interest of national development, growth and how their standard of living during the era of that leader has improved. In the United States of America and other parts of the globe the standard of living is getting worse by the hour. In 2009, when the Global crisis reared its head many Americans lost their jobs, families were killing each other and till date the situation has not yet improved as expected. Few days back, statistics showed that the United States of America needs about 123,000 jobs to cushion the economic hardship of the people. With post offices, malls and stalls closing down every other day, job opportunities are getting scare by the hour, even a simple Nursing Caretaker job is difficult to come by. The situation is not different in Spain, Greece, France and other developed countries that used to be labeled G7, G10, you name it. With this kind of hostile Global Atmosphere taking over, it would be deceitful for politicians to use jobs as a campaign tool to woo voters. It is a situation that cannot be solved in a week’s time, month or year and secondly; the Sierra Leone situation is absolutely different as the level of unskilled youths is high compared to those who went through middle level man-power training. One comes to the realization that Sierra Leonean youths are not interested to learn anything with their hands; all they are interested in is how to be petty traders, which requires no basic training and skill. Selling second wares at Ecowas, Kissy and Rawdon Streets require no basic training for the future. This and more are some of the reasons why in developed countries where middle level-manpower training is rewarding and beneficial, it contributes to the development of those countries. Politicians in Sierra Leone are not making known the lapses in these youth groups; instead they play on them, tell them during elections that they would provide them with jobs if elected. This is not only deception, but a clear show of patriotic ingratitude to their country and the youth population, which is the largest group of voters.
We have started hearing the opposition talking about youth unemployment as a key subject matter in the coming election. It sounds absurd and full of mockery for the opposition to start trumpeting youth unemployment as one of their themes for the election, after spending eleven years in office all they were able to produce is a group of uneducated and unemployed bunch of youth groups found in ghettos and slums.
Sierra Leone is not a producing country, but one that consumes everything and anything produced in foreign lands that are imported to this country. Being in the opposition does not in any way prevent them from providing jobs for the youth if only they have them in mind and considers them as an integral part of national development. Government should now focus attention on the establishment of training centres, where various vocations are taught and should be compulsory for all youth to attend. Government should endeavour to make these centres available and free to all Sierra Leoneans and after graduation they should, as a condition be prepared to serve their country for at least a period of two or three years. In some developing countries similar facilities and conditions do exist, which can also be useful to Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is divided into four regions, east, west, north and south with two main and oldest political parties, namely the Sierra Leone People’s Party (APC) and the All People’s Congress (APC) each of them is boasting of having some of these places as their strongholds. For the SLPP, the southeast they say is their stronghold while the APC is laying claims on the western area (Freetown) and the north. The western area is cosmopolitan or better describes the melting pot where every tribe and supporters of these parties are present. In the southeast, where the SLPP is claiming to be their stronghold has the presence of Temnes, Krios and limbas in relatively small number, with Mendes dominating the landscape. The political make-up of the country has more Mendes in the southeast than any other part of the country, but when combined the population of the Temnes and the Limbas that are traditional supporters of the APC they far outstretched the Mendes. Sierra Leoneans may not know that every child born in a Mende house is automatically an SLPP supporter, but not every child born in a Temne house is APC. The Krios is a minority but very influential group in the country and are comfortable with the APC than the SLPP. This came as a result when the SLPP gained political power in the 1960s and the 1990s, most of the Krios who were Permanent Secretaries; Directors of Parastatals were kicked out and replaced by SLPP supporters. It was only when the APC took over the reins of power that some of them were fortunate to be restored to their former positions, by then most of them have reached the age of retirement and after a brief period in office they proceeded on leave prior to retirement.
The Limbas like the Mendes have their loyalty tied to the APC, with very few of them supporting the other side. The Fullahs, Mandingos and Susus are supporters of the SLPP. Originally they were supporters of the APC, but during the reign of the late Siaka Stevens they were asked to return to Guinea on the request of the late Sheku Touray. They alleged that they were beaten up, molested, tied and dumped into trucks heading for Guinea. As a result of this bitter experience, their support is for the SLPP. Quietly, they would go to the polling stations and cast their voters. One hardly sees them discussing politics publicly. Ex-President Kabbah took advantage as a multi linguist of the situation and secured votes from the Susus and Mandingos in and around the Kambia borders where they sparsely settled down and in the Kenema District where some of them are engaged in mining activities.
With this brief analysis, readers can see where some of these individuals and ethnic groups belong. However, with the development of politics and democracy in the country and the world at large the situation is now gradually changing and taking a different dimension. Notwithstanding, a large percentage of the Mendes have remain unchanged, believing in the doctrine and policy of the SLPP. A few of the Krios have shifted their allegiance to the SLPP, while some are still active players in APC because of benefits derived and positions achieved and maintained over the years.
For the SLPP to gain the confidence of this small, but influential group means hard work, inter-tribal marriage between the two groups has not improved the situation. Similar situation is prevalent between the Mendes and the Temnes. Each party don,t believe the other and because of that, they prefer to marry their brothers and sisters from the same tribe. The Limbas, some of whom are moving away from their brothers and sisters to different tribes, but that doesn’t prevent them from supporting their traditional party. The Lokos, another group; though small is dedicated to the APC than the SLPP. In the politics of Sierra Leone, no one tribe can earn you the presidency. There should be a combination of all the tribes in the country. That is why when the SLPP is talking about having control of the southeast; some students of political science are making mockery of them, knowing the political situation on the ground that it favours no particular tribe to win the presidency.
Taking about population and size in most of these areas, is still not an answer. The population and size in the southeast may be bigger than the north, but not the western area. Even with this size and population, the SLPP should not be complacent; assuming that all votes from these areas would be delivered into their boxes when there are lots of Temne traders in Bo and Kenema that are APC diehard supporters who in no way would change for any reason or party. Politics in Sierra Leone used to be won on tribal basis, but the advent of the Ernest Koroma Administration has created a visible dimension from tribe to performance, but some voters especially those living in the suburbs continued to be fooled by those in the intellectual circle, using tribalism to gain their votes.
The coming election seems to be different one, if the campaign subjects are properly packaged and devoid of violence. The Candidates, no doubt would preach about youth unemployment, but what would be critical and marketable are the issues of development programmes that have been put in place and achieved. While the APC will be pointing fingers to roads, electricity supply, water and sanitation, the SLPP would be telling the voters that those projects were initiated by them which have been implemented by the APC that is taking credit for its implementation and completion. The prediction is that the opposition will take up issues like unemployment, which has always been a campaign material locally as well as in developed countries during election. Corruption, the SLPP would claim is rampant during the administration of the APC, therefore the party is corrupt, when they are guilty of the reverse when the two administrations are critically examined. The APC fight against corruption cannot be compared to the SLPP that prepared the ground for this menace, and it will also use high cost of living, projecting the APC as unsympathetic to the voters when they know that Sierra Leone is not an exception to the current Global crisis affecting everywhere. Also, accusation of discrimination that the APC is not giving jobs to their supporters, when they know that the current civil service has more south-easterners than northerners and westerners. In the military alone, there are about 236 south-easterners, a number far greater than both the north and western area.
It is no doubt that the SLPP will secure more votes in the southeast than any other region. In Pujehun, Moyamba, Bonthe and the interior parts of those areas the SLPP will make significant gains. This is because most of the voters in those areas vote on party and tribal lines and not on the subject of development and they have allowed the educated elites of the SLPP from those areas to deceive them with the Maxim “One Country One People” even when during the administration of their party the people are suffering. In Bo, Kenema, Kailahun and towns and villages in those areas will vote for the SLPP. Few votes will go to the APC and PMDC including Bonthe, Moyamba, Pujehun and its surroundings. The good side about it is that APC supporters residing in those areas will campaign openly and without fear this time, because their party is in governance.
In the north not much will be derived in terms of votes for the SLPP, PMDC, NDA and the newly registered UDM. The reason is similar to what obtains in the southeast. The APC is their party and should not be allowed to fall. In the western area, the prediction is that the APC will make more gains than the SLPP. Several reasons have been advanced by people who are looking at the situation from a different perspective, which among other things relate to the credibility of the two candidates; namely Ernest Bai Koroma of the APC and Julius Maada Bio of the SLPP. Some schools of thought are saying that the two Candidates are incompatible. Ernest Koroma is more charismatic than Bio with less baggage to take to the election podium, while Julius Maada Bio has a lot of explanations and defence to make to enable him win the hearts and minds of the voters.
The performance of Ernest Koroma within this four-year period will be the campaign tickets to dish out to the voters and ask them to permit him a second term to complete the numerous projects he has initiated during his first term in office. It is without doubt that the period of campaign would be an interesting event. It is hoped that those in charge of providing security for the state would be provided with the necessary apparatus to maintain a robust and effective network in the country.